How Does Violence Exposure Impact Mental Health?
MoodRx Clinical Staff - 2024-03-12

How Does Violence Exposure Impact Mental Health?

How Does Violence Exposure Impact Mental Health?

Exposure to physical and sexual violence is a profound trauma that can have lasting effects on an individual's mental health. The impact of such experiences varies widely among individuals, depending on factors like the nature of the trauma, the support systems in place, and individual resilience. However, there are several common mental health issues that many survivors of physical and sexual violence may face:

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a common reaction to experiencing or witnessing traumatic events, including physical and sexual violence. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the trauma.
  2. Depression: Survivors of violence may experience persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, feelings of worthlessness, and a diminished ability to feel pleasure.
  3. Anxiety Disorders: This can include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, where individuals feel excessive, uncontrollable worry about future attacks, personal safety, or other aspects of life.
  4. Dissociative Disorders: Some individuals may experience dissociative symptoms as a coping mechanism, including feeling detached from themselves or their surroundings, or experiencing disruptions in their sense of reality.
  5. Substance Use Disorders: Alcohol and drugs may be used as a way to self-medicate, attempting to numb the pain or escape from memories of the trauma.
  6. Eating Disorders: Eating behaviors can become a form of control or a coping mechanism, leading to conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder.
  7. Sleep Disorders: Trauma can significantly impact sleep, leading to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, nightmares, and night terrors.
  8. Sexual Dysfunction: Experiencing sexual violence can lead to difficulties with sexual function, intimacy issues, and a distorted relationship with one's own sexuality.
  9. Self-Harm: Some survivors may engage in self-harming behaviors as a coping mechanism to deal with emotional pain.
  10. Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors: The psychological pain caused by physical and sexual violence can lead some individuals to contemplate or attempt suicide.
  11. Complex PTSD (C-PTSD): In cases of prolonged or repeated exposure to violence, individuals may develop C-PTSD, which includes the symptoms of PTSD along with additional issues such as difficulty controlling emotions, distrust of others, and feelings of emptiness or hopelessness.
  12. Trust Issues: Survivors may find it difficult to trust others, impacting their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships.
  13. Guilt and Shame: Many survivors struggle with feelings of guilt and shame, wrongly blaming themselves for the violence they experienced.


Addressing these mental health issues requires a comprehensive, trauma-informed approach that respects the survivor's pace and autonomy. Treatment may include therapy modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), trauma-focused therapy, and support groups. It's also important for survivors to have access to supportive services that can help them rebuild their lives, including legal assistance, medical care, and community resources. Creating a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental environment is crucial for healing and recovery.